This summer, we had the pleasure of hosting Isabelle Cole and Edwin Santos, two Obama Foundation Voyager Scholarship recipients who volunteered in our shelters. The Voyager Scholarship, established by President Barack and Michelle Obama alongside Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb, aims to cultivate young leaders who can bridge divides and address global challenges, and prepare them for careers in public service. This scholarship empowers recipients to create their own unique summer “voyages” based on their passions and goals.
Isabelle Cole, a senior studying Social Work and Global Studies at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, found out about The HOME Project through the Obama Foundation network. Reaching out to our CEO, Sofia Kouvelaki, who is a member of the first cohort of Obama Leaders Europe, Isabelle was compelled to contribute as part of her summer voyage. Having previously spent time in Morocco teaching English to migrant women and working with nonprofits advocating for migrant rights, she envisions becoming a social worker focused on refugee assistance, “so people can be greeted by someone who will help them integrate, not be criminalized and further traumatized.”
Her volunteer experience at our shelter for teenage girls and minor mothers was deeply fulfilling, aligning with her interests in childhood, mental health, and education. “I wish there were more organizations that offer comprehensive care, like The HOME Project does,” she says. “Many kids, especially immigrants, lose the right to be kids. This way, they get to reclaim their childhood. Every day I spend here, I wish that I could stay for longer, and that’s a testament to the organization’s child protection model."
Edwin Santos, a senior at American University in Washington, DC, pursuing Legal Studies and a master’s degree in Public Administration, envisions a career as an immigration lawyer. His experience as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at UC Berkeley earlier this summer and the time he spent volunteering at our shelter hosting children from Ukraine, have equipped him with a global perspective and deepened his interest in policy. “Migration is a global issue,” he says, “and if I don’t agree with the systems in the first place, I have to change them."
Through volunteering at The HOME Project, Edwin gained a deeper appreciation for language learning. “It’s amazing how fluent in Greek these young children have become in just a year and a half! Since I don’t speak Greek, Ukrainian, or Russian and they barely speak English, communication was unique.” Language was not a barrier though, and Edwin soon became part of the day-to-day at the shelter. Another thing that stood out to him was how intentional the staff was in creating a stable and nurturing environment and addressing each child’s unique needs. “I remember the shelter’s social worker saying that there are no difficult children, every behavior has a cause,” he reflects.
Both Isabelle and Edwin want to continue engaging with The HOME Project and we look forward to having them join us again in the future!